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Teen attitude blues

Why is my teen depressed and what can I do about it?

What to do about the teen attitude blues

As a teacher and father, I have heard parents complain so many times about their teen children regressing emotionally. Academically and intellectually, these kids often seem smarter than their parents – a humbling situation I know well – while emotionally, they are like toddlers again, quick to rage, uncompromising, easily upset, and unable to see past the present moment.

If any of this rings true for you, Emily Edlynn, Ph.D. feels your pain. She breaks down the different ways teens usually act out, the reasons (often nothing to do with the focus of the attitude, for example you. the parent), and some helpful suggestions on how to make things better for all.

First, Dr. Edlynn reminds us that much of a teen’s behavior can be traced to physiology, or what she quaintly calls “Brain on Fire.”

“Our emotions live in our brains' limbic system,” she writes, “where they light up when we feel them—pleasant or unpleasant. Studies have shown that for adolescents, this limbic system affected by puberty hormonal changes results in increased emotional outbursts and impulsivity. Imagine your annoyance when someone asks you to do something you don't want to do and triple it in your teen's brain.”

READ MORE: Laughter still the best medicine

She notes that adults possess hard won impulse control teens have not yet developed. Tamping down hair-trigger annoyance and responding respectfully can require “double the effort” for “brain-under-construction teenagers.”

Dr. Edlynn suggests teens are testing limits, usually without consciously realizing they are doing so. “You’re their safe place,” she writes. “If your teen openly debates and argues you with you, they trust they can do so without losing your love and support. 

Ironically, your teen ‘with attitude’ might be a sign she is developing her independence within a trusting relationship with you.” Dr. Edlynn even suggests that more obedient teens might be more prone to be secretly, and more dramatically, rebellious.

What to do? Talking, for starters. Even when, or perhaps especially when, you the parent are hurt and in a fury. This is where the impulse control you’ve gained as a functioning adult can really come in handy. 

Dr. Edlynn writes: “Start with a discussion during a calm, peaceful moment to identify the problem (‘lashing out’), its natural consequences (high stress and conflict between you), and possible replacements for lashing out (emotion regulation strategies).” Having your teen draw or write something, an idea for a solution, can be particularly helpful.

According to Dr. Edlynn, “If she can learn ways to calm herself in the moment, she can better do the next critical step: discuss her stress and emotions directly with you rather than taking them out on you.”

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